Ombudsman to investigate small business tax disputes

Businesses with past disputes with the ATO are set to have their cases revisited, as the Small Business Ombudsman reveals that it will investigate historic tax complaints.

The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO), headed by Kate Carnell (pictured), revealed that federal Minister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education, Michaelia Cash, requested it to examine the scope of instances where an SME has disputed an assessment by the ATO, and where the ATO has commenced early recovery action.

“Overzealous early debt recovery by the ATO can be a small business killer,” Ms Carnell said.

“Our research last year into unfair treatment by the ATO found serious system-wide issues impacting the small business sector, including early debt recovery.”

She said that the ASBFEO heard from multiple business owners that they were “devastated financially” by this practice, particularly in instances where the ATO had made a mistake.

However, Ms Carnell said that her office’s investigations will only look at “historical cases”, and not any that is currently subject to review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

“The work behind this task will support the operations of our newly established Small Business Concierge Service, which began on 1 March,” she said.

Appointment of first Small Business Ombudsman

A business lobbyist and advocate for cutting penalty rates has been appointed Australia’s first small business and family enterprise ombudsman.

The  Minister for Small Business, Kelly O’Dwyer MP has announced the appointment of Kate Carnell as the inaugural Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman

Ms Kelly describe the role as an independent Ombudsman with real powers to act as a:

  • Commonwealth advocate for small businesses and family enterprises;
  • Concierge for dispute resolution service to allow businesses to resolve disputes without resorting to costly litigation; and
  • Contributor to the development of small business Commonwealth laws and regulations.

Kate Carnell addressing a Beyong Blue function

Ms Carnell will commence the new role on 11 March for a five year period.

Ms Carnell brings extensive experience and knowledge to the role of Ombudsman. Ms Carnell, who ran her own small businesses for 15 years before becoming ACT Chief Minister, is well-positioned to translate the voices of small Australian businesses and family enterprises into targeted policy messages for Government.

Ms Carnell has held the position of CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry since 2014, which represents more than 300,000 businesses across Australia.

She is the former CEO of beyondblue, the Australian Food and Grocery Council and the Australian General Practice Network. She is a pharmacist by profession and was the first female to become the National Vice-President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.

Ms Carnell’s appointment comes as the government considers its response to the Productivity Commission’s report on Australia’s work laws and what, if any, industrial relations changes it will take to the next election.

The Commission recommended in its report that the independent Fair Work Commission consider cutting some Sunday penalty rates to the same level as Saturday rates, a position backed by Ms Carnell in the ACCI’s submission.

Small business prompt payment protocol

Many small business clients dealing with large business customers have complained how difficult it can be dealing with and get payments from those big companies. I think most people would be sceptical that anything can be done to fix this.

The Government is considering the introduction of a voluntary prompt payment protocol to tackle delays in trade payments between businesses, particularly late payments to small businesses. It says delays in payments are typically passed down the supply chain and are often borne by small businesses, which may in turn withhold payments to their staff, suppliers, financiers or the ATO. To facilitate consultation, the Government has issued a discussion paper which sets out the key design features of the Protocol which it says will help “encourage a necessary shift in Australia’s late payment culture”.

Closing date for feedback: 23 August 2013